What’s your *personal* ROI as a Brandividual?

by cv harquail on June 3, 2009

I’m not a wholehearted fan of personal branding. Some elements of applying a construct designed to sell products to the activity of selling oneself are a little questionable (as I argue in my Employee Branding research),  because personal branding can lead to an overly commercial understanding of the self.

Quite simply, personal branding can become self-exploitative. And yet, it can be a useful strategy for developing ones own reputation.

It may even be that thinking about your reputation as a personal ‘brand’ can help prevent you from being exploited, if it helps you understand all that you are worth to your organization.

Especially in the role of the brandividual, individuals should understand the ways that the organization is benefiting from their employees’ personal brands.

Individuals should start thinking about their personal ROI in the brandividual role, and make sure they are getting compensated for all that they are bringing to the organization. Let me explain…

_3453_3318339595_4ceaaef2f2.jpg In my talk on ‘The Rise of Brandividuals’ at the Corporate Reputation Conference last Friday, I was explaining how an individual in the role of a brandividual uses his or her personal brand to cast authenticity onto the organization and to draw people into a relationship with the organization.

I argued that there may be a way that being a brandividual benefits an employee, not only by enabling them to be more of themselves at work, but also by giving them the chance to raise their own personal profile through their brandividual job.

At first glance, the blending of organizational brand and personal brand seems fair. The organization gets to use the individual’s personal brand equity, and the individual gets to use her or his role in the organization to increase their own personal visibility. With this increased visibility, the individual can extend his or her brand and develop (even more) social capital.

It’s a win-win situation, so it would seem.

I also noted that right now, brandividuals are often individuals who already had a reputation and/or personal brand before joining the organization as their brandividual.

When they joined the organization, these brandividuals drew on their own reputations, personal brands and social networks to attract attention to their new organization. In this way, the organization got pulled into the relationships between the brandividual and the people in his or her social network by riding on the coattails of the individual’s personal brand.

My question is:

           Are these brandividuals getting compensated for all that their personal brand equity is worth? And,

          Are these brandividuals getting an appropriate personal return when they invest their personal brand in the organization?

These questions came home to me as I read Kaplan Mobray’s article in AdAge, “How to Turn High-Profile Employees Into Brand Ambassadors. If They’ve Got Strong Personal Brands, Use Them to Call Attention to Your Company.”   Mobray’s language and action steps made me realize that all may not be right in this exchange.

First, Mobray argues:

Hiring employees who have established personal brands will help companies immediately inherit value and relevance in a crowded market and may lead to quicker results in meeting growth objectives.

I don’t think that brandividuals should bequeath their personal brand equity to the organization. The organization shouldn’t “inherit” the personal brand equity of the people it employs. Instead, just as the organization pays for the individuals’ skills, talents, experiences, the organization should pay to use the individual’s personal brand equity.

Mobray also writes that:

Kevin Carroll, “known as Nike’s “Katalyst,” travels the world promoting the culture and spirit of Nike. His personal brand has nurtured the company, provoked new ways of thinking and doing, and inspired the entire organization. Kevin has created value for his personal brand as an author and speaker and as a result has driven exponential value for Nike’s brand.

While Carroll’s efforts are driving “exponential value for Nike’s brand”, what is Carroll getting? When Carroll lets Nike use his personal brand, does this generate “exponential value” for Carroll himself?

Finally, Mobray recommends 5 tips for organizations that want to “tap into the personal brands” of their staff. While these tips are sensible, not one of these tips is intended to serve the interests of the employees themselves.

This arrangement looks great for the organizational half of the brandividual equation, but what about for the individual?

While the company can create “tons of internal buzz that will have your company’s brand soaring,” and while publicizing the employees’ brands might draw attention to the employees themselves, does it create any tangible value for the employees themselves?

Many (including me) will argue that playing the role of brandividual can in fact extend the reach and prominence of an individual’s personal reputation. However — it is not clear whether being a brandividual will have any lasting and transferable benefit for the individual once he or she leaves that role. We don’t know whether any of the social capital that the individual has built within the brandividual role at one organization will even travel with him to another job. For example, how much of the social capital that Scott Monty has built at Ford will transfer with him if Monty takes a job with another company?

We assume that the increased visibility in the organization’s brandividual role creates opportunities for employees to expand their own brands, and this may be true. But is that enough?

If organizations hire individuals with strong personal brands to represent the organization as brandividuals, then they should figure out how to compensate these employees for the use of their personal brands. Just as organizations pay more for celebrity talent of other kinds, they should pay more for individuals with strong personal brands.

Organizations should also do more to protect the individual’s brand equity by structuring the brandividual role in ways that allow the brandividual to be effective . (More on that in another post.) For now, we need to make sure that employees are getting a reasonable ROI when they invest their personal brands in service of the organization.

Otherwise, isn’t being a brandividual just another form of exploitation?

What do you think?


Joseph Logan June 4, 2009 at 4:30 am

Seems to me one of the dynamics at play is the power of the organization, especially as established by the values and norms established by a great number of individuals and by authority and hierarchy. I’m not well-versed in the fundamentals of personal branding, but the notion of a strong personal brand as you describe would seem to imply a challenge or at least variation from the status quo. It might be reasonable to expect some reaction from those who feel threatened by the “brandividual” or just simply don’t understand–“she isn’t one of us”.

Sounds like the Katalyst found some overlap between his personal thing and the values and culture of Nike. Good for him. I worry, though, about the exploitation question as you do. One would assume that not even the Katalyst has 100% overlap between his own goals and Nike’s. The power dynamic would mean that if the Katalyst’s values and Nike’s values came into conflict, Nike’s would almost certainly win as long as the Katalyst chose to remain a member of the organization.

I recall some useful context for this discussion in an interview from a few years back: http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-2/4-2byers-rhodes.pdf. The article is called Justice, Identity, and Managing with Philosophy. Highly recommended.

Mari Smith June 5, 2009 at 1:46 am

I like your style, CV! I was googling the term “brandividual” as I’ve been using it in my various social media presentations for a while since coming across it I believe via @Armano… until I read your post about parallel invention. 🙂 aha! In any case, really great food for thought here. The whole social media/transparent realm is still very new… especially in the corporate world. And it’s fascinating to see how companies are adopting and adapting. I do enjoy @ScottMonty & @ComcastCares as “brandividuals”… and just came across Kelly from @QuickenLoans too.
I’m following you on Twitter now! Glad I came across your blog. 😀

CV Harquail June 5, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Joseph, thanks so much for pointing me to the Justice and Identity article! I think that the brandividual conversation gives us a chance to raise issues of power (org vs. member, member vs. member) in ways that might help people see and appreciate chronic struggles as well as ones we can work through. And I like the insight of a brandividual threatening the status quo, in the sense that an impersonal organization becomes represented by one person’s personality (threat) and not my personality (another threat). Much to think about, thank you (as always).

CV Harquail June 5, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Mari, I think that there is a lot in our larger culture as well as in soc media/pr that will be bringing the brandividual issue closer into the conversation. I can see how, with your Facebook & Marketing expertise, brandividuals are both a tool and a mindshift to keep an eye on. I’ll look forward to the conversation about individuals and branding as it unfolds on your blog too!

Joseph Logan June 8, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Strikes me that I probably framed this in a sort of negative light. There are positive aspects to power as well, of course–my intention was to define a balance/imbalance dynamic between the individual and the organization.

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